How COVID-19 is impacting candidates' mental health
As Australians continue to navigate the uncharted waters of COVID-19, the sense of disruption and uncertainty is putting mental health in the spotlight. Many workers have lost their jobs or have been stood down. Some are working fewer hours, others are worried about what the future may bring.

Latest research conducted by Nature and The Lab, showed mental health ranked the second-most important focus for candidates in the six weeks following COVID-19 lockdowns. It also shows that isolation from others and economic uncertainty are having a profoundly negative impact on mental wellbeing. When it comes to seeking help, one in six people are open to speaking to a health professional about their concerns.

There’s a high chance your current or future employees are also feeling the strain.

Here, SEEK’s Resident Psychologist Sabina Read shares her insights on the way these effects may play out for people, and how to support employees in this situation.

The impact of uncertainty

Read says the current sense of uncertainty is taking a toll on mental health.

“Humans like to fill uncertainty with predictability and solutions and understanding,” she says. “But, at a time like this, no one can join the dots with 100% certainty, because there’s just so much that we don’t know.

“Anxiety correlates with uncertainty,” she adds, “In addition to anxiety, many of us are now dealing with the agitation of being locked in the house with kids or a partner, and this has a secondary effect on our mental health.”

Everyone is different

It is easy to make assumptions about people’s resilience and response to stress based on their personality. Surely the extroverts will reach out for help if they need it? Employees with kids at home can’t feel lonely during the lockdown? Single people must be climbing the walls?

Read says such assumptions should be avoided, as mental health is more nuanced and personal circumstances may not provide an accurate gauge of how someone is feeling.

In fact, Nature and The Lab’s research shows that 44% of candidates are putting on a brave face, but privately feel really worried, and that 30% believe their mental health has been negatively impacted as a result of working from home. It also shows that young Australians aged 16 to 34 are at the greatest risk of loneliness, with 42% feeling isolated and alone.

“Making an assumption as an employer is a slippery slope to missing the needs of your workforce,” she says.

To gain an understanding of people’s mental health, Read suggests asking specific questions.

“If you ask a generic question, like ‘How are you travelling?’, most people are going to give a generic response,” she says.

“It's useful to ask, ‘What do you need from me? What's working well for you? What would you like to be different? What are you learning about your own style of working at the moment?’ These kinds of questions are open-ended and nonjudgmental. They show a genuine curiosity about them and they're not cookie-cutter. They are also great way to build rapport.”

Mental health and recruitment

As Australia’s coronavirus curve continues to flatten, Nature and The Lab’s research shows that Australians are gradually feeling less anxious overall.

However, the 52% whose lives have been impacted by job loss or work reduction are continuing to feel the impact to their mental health, and they may be among your next recruits.

Read says it’s important to acknowledge the effects of change during the recruitment process.

“Acknowledge the impact of the pandemic, instead of pretending that nothing has changed,” she says.

“We're all looking for certainty and we're all looking for support. As an employer, if you think you have something to offer in the way of flexibility, or mental health resources, or a culture that brings people together, now is a great time to highlight those points of difference.”

HR and people management platform Employment Hero has created a wellness survey for COVID-19, which is another option to help you assess your team’s wellbeing. You could consider repeating this survey to track wellbeing over the months ahead.

Data correct as of 13 May 2020.

Research conducted by independent strategic-insights based consultancy Nature and Australia’s leading cultural insight and strategy agency The Lab. A total of 3500 Australians have been interviewed as at 7th May, 2019.